Ink Shrines: the art of Ken Campbell

Reviewed by Brian Catling
(Professor of Fine Art, Ruskin School, Oxford University)
Beardsmore Gallery Exhibition, 1994

The richness of Ken Campbell’s imagery and the stampedal energy of its language, seems disjointed and foreign to contemporary flows and trickles found in both literature and the visual arts. He is not taking a stance or adopting an heroic posture of independence. He is simply engaged on another quest. The complex and potent body of work that he is constructing is a power-stream of question, confrontation and reflection. Its shifting forms insisting on a robust beauty that is bred through clarity and skill, steered and directed by a generous action of revilement. These are layered works of celebration, not of a thing or a single idea but of the expressive labyrinthine landscape of a being. Such a place is not bathed in continual light. We are equally invited to find ourselves in the comic shadows.

Campbell’s dark humour is lexically entwined with his passion for, and his need to articulate knowledge. This is the magnetised core that is both compass and engine to his original talent. Its radiating influence will attract wild and enigmatic fragments of human belief and action: foible and inspirational vision equally cluster. The processing of these is an act of becoming. …

The pages hold the text locked deep in their deceptive surface. The unfolding and reading being impossible without the viewer’s immersion. We have to enter this visual chant that is constructed by revealment and absorption and engage in the moving specific gravity of the text in this shifting colour-field of fierce sensuality. The printing process itself has been transformed. There is no sense of a touch of ink mechanically applied to the surface of the paper. Indeed the passivity of the material has been denounced.

The saturation of each page suggests that it has been composed of a compression of pure colour and voice bound in a muscular and solid ink. The page is straining to become a thing, absolute, and its sequacity is inverting to object.

In this deep and complex pool we find our own reflection mesmerically entangled. The turning of the book giving tidal shifts to our emotional and intellectual buoyancy. These books are icons. Closed forms that threaten us with their opening. Embedded explosions, portable visual shrines that possess contemplative resonance. The parallel to abstract expressionist painting is obvious. The sublime brooding of these works is very close to Rothko, but Campbell’s reverie is not so calm. Tranquility for him is a constant humming hue, a shifting periphery. His field is never entirely abstract. It is often occupied the unnerving static of past event.